Liverpool capable of harming Manchester City’s title prospects

Liverpool have what it takes to see off Manchester City in their biggest league fixture for more than two decades, but can they do it?

man city vs liverpool 2006

The defining fixtures will come thick and fast and Liverpool have the tools to put a spanner in the works of the title race by outwitting Manchester City this weekend.

Current Premier League leaders Chelsea travel to Merseyside, where they lost to Everton in September, on 27 April.

But it’s Manuel Pellegrini’s Blues that will pose the latest stern examination of their credentials when they arrive at Anfield full of confidence and seeking to get one over their fellow rivals.

Brendan Rodgers’s boys may be the novices in the three-horse race but despite signs of crackling in recent edgy wins over West Ham and Sunderland, they are not caving in just yet.

The Reds helped land one of many knockout punches in Arsenal’s challenge for glory in February by dishing out a 5-1 hammering.

The noisy neighbours were swept aside, Tottenham blown to kingdom come while Manchester United were edged out in the third week of the campaign.

Only Southampton and Swansea have left Anfield with something this season – just five points dropped at home. It would take a monumental effort from City to alter that impressive record.

Liverpool have plenty of positive omens in their favour, not least the unrelenting form of the dynamic SAS.

Daniel Sturridge was deemed surplus to requirements by Mark Hughes five years ago and has unfinished business against City while Luis Suarez is one goal away from 30 for the campaign.

What more motivation could they possibly need to gun down a backline that, with Martin Demichelis at the heart of it, looks distinctly vulnerable in the big games.

Vincent Kompany has suffered from discipline issues and Pablo Zabaleta is one for talking himself into trouble. Liverpool have the ability to capitalise on this.

The energy of Jordan Henderson and drive from skipper Stevie Gerrard will have to set the agenda against the fully-fledging Fernandinho and powerhouse Yaya Toure.

Regardless of whether Rodgers employs a midfield diamond or the fluid 4-3-3, the influence of Raheem Sterling will be crucial in finding gaps and exploiting weaknesses.

Boasting electrifying pace and elusive moment, the 19-year-old can hurt City between the lines or wide on the right flank. Phillipe Coutinho has reached the peak of his form in recent weeks and has the potential to make that decisive contribution.

In Joe Allen and Lucas Leiva, the Reds have solid back-ups to call upon in reserve during the second half. To shut up shop, so to speak.

Martin Skrtel will be kept occupied by Edin Dzeko but harbours the resilience and nouse to shackle the big Bosnian. Playing for his place in Daniel Agger’s absence, Mamadou Sakho will be up for the task. Glen Johnson is a steady presence and reliable going forward while Jon Flanagan has been nothing short of outstanding since replacing the injured Jose Enrique.

City possess the offensive weapons to hurt a Liverpool rearguard that has, at times, been fragile yet will the Reds camp be worrying about that in the build-up to a huge showdown? The answer, not too much.

Rodgers will be rightly concentrating on imposing his game plan and drilling the players on the approach required to combat City on the counter attack.

Complacency and naivety should be overcome on an occasion of such magnitude and significance. Only one massive ingredient could stand in the way of Liverpool turning in a title-winning performance – belief.

The players may be downplaying the importance of the encounter but it cannot be understated, this is arguably Liverpool’s biggest league fixture in 24 years.

The enthusiasm and desire flowing through the Liverpool veins has been refreshing to see from a neutral perspective. The entertainment value in their games is always guaranteed, whether it comes from refereeing howlers, defensive mistakes or a free-flowing attacking style.

Similarly to Atletico Madrid in La Liga, their surprising pursuit of the top prize has been strong and added to the drama of an enthralling championship hunt but whether it can be sustained in the final furlongs remains to be seen.

Momentum is the most important factor during the business end of the season and that’s exactly what the Reds have at the moment. The incentive of making it an all-round ten league wins on the spin will spur them on in front of a partisan crowd.

Past meetings will hardly play on the mind of the players but the Reds can draw inspiration from City’s previous four visits.

The last of which, some 14 months ago, produced a spectacle dubbed the perfect advert for top-flight English football as Liverpool were denied victory by an errant Martin Skrtel backpass in an absorbing four-goal thriller.

Andy Carroll’s brief career on Merseyside took off with a scintillating double in a breathtaking 3-0 win while the highlight of a 1-1 draw dominated by the Reds in November 2011 was the antics of that enigmatic Italian in a sky blue shirt. No, not Roberto Mancini.

A Carling Cup semi-final aggregate win over City brought one of the club’s finest moments in recent times, taking Kenny Dalglish’s men to a first Wembley final in 14 years and setting up that memorable penalty shoot-out triumph over Cardiff in 2012.

Those memories suggest Liverpool could go one better this time around.

Liverpool’s loss at the Etihad Stadium on Boxing Day may have knocked them off top spot, the 2-1 reverse at Stamford Bridge three days later even more damaging but the fighting spirit shown in both defeats was the catalyst for a determined unbeaten run so far in 2014.

After criticism of Lee Mason’s Greater Manchester connections in the reverse clash, Rodgers will be pleased to hear that Mark Clattenburg has been assigned the unenviable task of keeping the peace on Sunday.

The fact that the County Durham whistler gave the Reds three spotkicks at Old Trafford last month may add to his delight.

Had the debatable offside against Raheem Sterling and penalty claim against Joleon Lescott gone their way, the outcome of that intriguing battle would have undoubtedly been different.

Three points are on offer, the title lies in wait. The repercussions of this result could be fatal. It should come with a government health warning. This may get spicy.

City can go within a point of the Reds, who could extend their summit advantage to five points before Chelsea’s voyage to South Wales  – there’s plenty to play for in what could be the biggest game of one of the most enthralling seasons since the Premier League’s inception.

Man City v Liverpool 2006 Image by Agnieszka Mieszczak via Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License

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